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Love Among the Artists/The Author to the Reader


Dear Sir or Madam:

Will you allow me a word of personal explanation now that I am, for the second time, offering you a novel which is not the outcome of my maturer experience and better sense? If you have read my Irrational Knot to the bitter end, you will not accuse me of mock modesty when I admit that it was very long; that it did not introduce you to a single person you could conceivably have been glad to know; and that your knowledge of the world must have forewarned you that no satisfactory ending was possible. You may, it is true, think that a story teller should not let a question of mere possibility stand between his audience and the satisfaction of a happy ending. Yet somehow my conscience stuck at it; for I am not a professional liar: I am even ashamed of the extent to which in my human infirmity I have been an amateur one. No: my stories were meant to be true ex hypothesi: the persons were fictitious; but had they been real, they must (or so I thought at the time) have acted as I said. For, if you can believe such a prodigy, I was but an infant of twenty-four when, being at that time, one of the unemployed, I sat down to mend my straitened fortunes by writing The Irrational Knot. I had done the same thing once before; and next year, still unemployed, I did it again. That third attempt of mine is about to see the light in this volume. And now a few words of warning to you before you begin it.

(1)Though the wisdom of the book is the fruit of a quarter century's experience, yet the earlier years of that period were much preoccupied with questions of bodily growth and nutrition; so that it may be as well to bear in mind that even the youngest of us may be wrong sometimes. (2)Love among the Artists is what is called a novel with a purpose; I will not undertake to say at this distant me what the main purpose was; but I remember that I had a notion of illustrating the difference between that enthusiasm for the fine arts which people gather from reading about them, and the genuine artistic faculty which cannot help creating, interpreting, and unaffectedly enjoying music and pictures. (3)This book has no winding-up at the end. Mind: it is not, as in The Irrational Knot, a case of the upshot being unsatisfactory! There is absolutely no upshot at all. The parties are married in the middle of the book; and they do not elope with or divorce one another, or do anything unusual or improper. When as much is told concerning them as seemed to me at the time germane to my purpose, the novel breaks off. But, if you prefer something more conclusive, pray do not scruple to add a final chapter of your own invention. (4)If you find yourself displeased with my story, remember that it is not I, but the generous and appreciative publisher of the book, who puts it forward as worth reading. I shall polish it up for you the best way I can, and here and there remove some absurdity out of which I have grown since I wrote it, but I cannot substantially improve it, much less make it what a novel ought to be; for I have given up novel writing these many years, during which I have lost the impudence of the apprentice without gaining the skill of the master.

There is an end to all things, even to stocks of unpublished manuscript. It may be a relief to you to know that when this "Love among the Artists" shall have run its course, you need apprehend no more furbished-up early attempts at fiction from me. I have written but five novels in my life; and of these there will remain then unpublished only the first—a very remarkable work, I assure you, but hardly one which I should be well advised in letting loose whilst my livelihood depends on my credit as a literary workman.

I can recall a certain difficulty, experienced even whilst I was writing the book, in remembering what it was about. Twice I clean forgot the beginning, and had to read back, as I might have read any other man's novel, to learn the story. If I could not remember then, how can I presume on my knowledge of the book now so far as to make promises about it? But I suspect you will find yourself in less sordid company than that into which The Irrational Knot plunged you. And I can guarantee you against any plot. You will be candidly dealt with. None of the characters will turn out to be somebody else in the last chapter: no violent accidents or strokes of pure luck will divert events from their normal course: no forger, long lost heir, detective, nor any commonplace of the police court or of the realm of romance shall insult your understanding, or tempt you to read on when you might better be in bed or attending to your business. By this time you should be eager to be at the story. Meanwhile I must not forget that it is only by your exceptional indulgence that I have been suffered to detain you so long about a personal matter; and so I thank you and proceed to business.

29, Fitzroy Square, London, W.